I’m not alone in my dislike of It’s A Wonderful Life.
Dr. John Fleming, who I had the pleasure of interviewing in my podcast last year (my favorite interview so far, which I transcribed in its entirety – parts one, two and three. The interview’s listed in Wikipedia) once wrote,
One of very few movies I remember from my childhood appeared right after the War: “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart (known locally in Princeton as St. James Stewart, ’32) and Donna Reed, released in 1946. Many Hollywood plots are absurd, but this one is embarrassing to boot. In this movie Stewart plays a guy dissuaded from suicide by an apprentice angel who shows him—through a series of cinematic flashforwards — all the good he can achieve by continuing to exist. Apparently the chief good thing he can do is save Donna Reed the horrible fate of becoming a librarian by making her a suburban housewife. Donna Reed was quite a dish, and it was hard to make her look unattractive; but Capra thought he could do so by giving her a pair of glasses and putting her hair up in a bun — that apparently being, in the iconography of Tinsel Town, a sterile and joyless coiffure.
This seemed to me ridiculous even at the age of 11, since it was obvious to me then, and has become only more so as the years go by, that libraries are the sexiest places, and librarians the sexiest people, on earth. Furthermore I’ve always had a particular thing about librarians with buns, especially when the bun is complemented by a long yellow Eberhard Faber number two lead pencil worn behind the ear.
Years ago Forbes had this to say about George Bailey, which very accurately sums the plot:
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra, dir.) Arrogant young George Bailey has one thing right: Bedford Falls is a boring little town. George cannot bring himself to break free, however, preferring instead to salvage and maintain an inefficient family business.
Fate comes knocking in the form of wise Henry F. Potter, who, though confined to a wheelchair, has become the town’s wealthiest entrepreneur. Henry offers George the employment opportunity of a lifetime, only to hear the young man haughtily reject it.
One Christmas Eve, as officers stand ready to arrest George in connection with a savings-and-loan scandal, he contemplates suicide and declares, “I wish I’d never been born.” With the help of an admittedly second-class angel, George sees that, without his presence, the boring little town flourishes Dixieland jazz fills its streets, city lights glisten, the taverns are full, law enforcement is swift and capable. George’s mother controls a real-estate business operating at capacity. The woman George was to domesticate as his housewife has become fully self-actualized, with a career in public service.
George cannot accept that he has been living a lie. He cowardly opts for a return to the life he has known and the mediocrity which he realizes he was instrumental in perpetrating. Caroling follows.
Today Liz Gunnison takes a look at It’s A Wonderful Life,
George Bailey, Subprime Lender
Miserly old Mr. Potter was right: It’s a Wonderful Life hero George Bailey never should’ve given those loans to the likes of Ernie and Bert.
We’re not saying that Bailey versus Potter is a perfect allegory for today’s credit crunch; Angelo Mozilo and his predatory buddies are no latter-day George Baileys, “starry-eyed dreamers” giving up their own riches to give the Ernie Bishops of the world a chance at the American Dream.
And the majority of the bad loans that have crippled our credit markets were not made to folks like Ernie Bishop, working tirelessly to put a roof over their families’ heads. A fair few of those loans enabled bad real estate investments by people who had no business buying or building homes as big as they did.
But consider this: Perhaps Mr. Potter wasn’t just a heartless Scrooge. Perhaps Mr. Potter, in the absence of sufficient regulatory oversight, was the one voice of sanity keeping the good people of Bedford Falls from over-leveraging themselves.
Perhaps, if we had all taken Mr. Potter a little bit more seriously, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.
With all that, plus the maudlin sentimentality, and the annoying angel with his ringing bells (and besides, everybody knows angels don’t look like that), It’s A Wonderful Life never fails to depress me.
The house from A Christmas Story is now a museum, which you can visit,
In It’s A Wonderful
Bailout Life, George can’t make it without a bailout. Phooey.
In A Christmas Story, when the turkey’s lost people coped and headed to the Chop Suey Palace, and at the end, Ralphie got the Red Rider BB Gun.
Life doesn’t get more wonderful than that!
UPDATE Betty Jo Tucker reviews Noel, and finds It’s a Sorrowful Life.
UPDATE, Thursday 25 December
Peter Ricci asks,
why is It’s a Wonderful Life considered a holiday classic? Why is this painful, nuanced look at Depression-era economics and the suffocating mediocrity of middle-class living held in such high regard among American viewers?
Go read his answer.